PORTLAND, Ore. --
This Veteran’s Day, 2021 marks the 80th anniversary of the Oregon Air National Guard being in the ranks of veterans whom we celebrate on November 11 each year. We honor our veterans and their service in defense of our nation, state and community, in peace and in war.
Our veterans served the public in “popular” wars (World War II is called by some as the “Good War”), in neglected or indifferent conflicts such as the relatively short, sharp action in Korea, and the long desert wars in SW Asia of the last 30 years, and also in deeply “unpopular” wars, such as in Vietnam. Regardless of the nature of the conflict or the ultimate outcome, good, bad or ugly, our veterans proudly served our country. Veterans don’t always choose the war in which they serve, but, especially since the end of the draft in 1973, they all chose to serve.
In November, 1941, the United States was at peace, despite the Second World War raging in Europe and Asia. Oregon’s first military aviation unit, the 123rd Observation Squadron, was activated and put into federal service on September 15, 1941, and moved up to Gray Field by Fort Lewis, Washington for operations. The 100+ charter members of the squadron under the unit’s first commander, Major G. Robert Dodson, commemorated Armistice Day, 1941 there at Gray Field. Little did these pioneering Oregon Airmen know how their organization would develop and evolve over the next 80 years, and that thousands and thousands of men and women would become veterans in Oregon ANG service!
And so, the squadron, redesignated as the 35th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron in 1943, spent Armistice Days 1941, 1942 and 1943 in the US. In 1944 the squadron commemorated the day in China while operating the high-performance Lockheed F-5E Lightning photo reconnaissance aircraft. Then, in 1945 it was back in the US as the squadron inactivated on November 7, 1945. The Redhawks had sailed and flown around the globe in their World War II service to the nation and were proud veterans of the first generation.
In May, 1946, the squadron was reactivated and returned to service in the Oregon National Guard. There it was joined by another major organization, the 371st Fighter Group, a World War II Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighter-bomber unit that flew and fought in the European Theater of Operations. The group spent its first Armistice Day in 1943 in the US, then was in Europe 1944, where some unit members spent the day as prisoners of war (POWs).
The 371st Fighter Group’s unit history for November, 1944, recalled that on 10 November, the River Doubs flooded Dole Airfield (Advanced Landing Ground Y-7), France, and all the P-47 planes had to fly out to Dijon Airfield (ALG Y-9), with the heavy equipment necessarily moved from the flightline up to higher ground. The entry for November 11 was as follows: “ARMISTICE, but hardly the cause for elation as in 1918. We were informed we would conduct operations from Dijon and not be off ops until our return to Dole as previous orders had indicated. Weather too bad for flying. Birthday party and steak dinner held for Colonel Kleine (born 10 November 1912) at Group officers BOQ.”
In The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the ETO, the groups “warbook” published after the war, there’s a humorous description of that Armistice Day, 1944: “The Fire Fighters augered in when their personnel carrier slipped off the taxi-way into the deeper water and mud, and they abandoned their truck like bugs leaving a burning mattress, holding their messkits high above their heads.”
Of note, although the 371st Fighter Group was an all-male operation, there were several American Red Cross women who were attached to the group during its time in the ETO, women such as Katie Binns, Nancy Heffelfinger, Nancy Orr and Barbara Wright. Although these women were not in the military, they served our country as well and endured the same living conditions and potential threat to home base as did the men in uniform.
In addition to the women of the Red Cross, there was a young French woman with the unit in 1944, Mademoiselle (MLLE) Yvette Hamel, a French farm girl who was seriously wounded by German artillery in the fighting for Normandy, whom the unit unofficially adopted in order to help her convalescence from her serious wounds. MLLE Hamel spent Armistice Day, 1944 with the unit.
And like the 123rd, the 371st came back in the States for inactivation on November 10, 1945. The group was redesignated as the 142nd Fighter Group on May 24, 1946 and allotted to Oregon in the post-war buildup of the aviation component of the National Guard, reflecting the painful lessons learned by the country in the costly readiness experience of early World War II.
This improved reserve readiness capability was soon put to the test in the Korean War. Oregon’s Air Guardsmen serving then spent Armistice Day, 1951 and for some 1952 also, in wartime service far and wide around the world. Oregon pilots deployed to Korea for combat in the North American F-51 Mustang with active duty units in 1951; one of them, 1st Lt. Orval Tandy, spent Armistice Days 1951 and 1952 in north Korea as a POW.
Back in the US, the organization was parsed out like a Thanksgiving turkey, with elements serving in Portland (123rd Fighter-Interceptor Squadron), at O’Hare International Airport in Illinois (142nd Fighter Group), on the Alaskan coast of the Bering Sea (142nd Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron) with many other individual members joining active duty units from Europe to Asia and points in between.
In 1954, Armistice Day became Veterans Day to reflect honors rendered to all veterans of all American Wars, and not just the commemoration of the Great War/World War I from which the day started. That year also reflected a change for the Oregon Air National Guard as the unit transitioned from a day fighter role with the North American F-86A Sabre to the night/all-weather air defense interceptor mission in the Lockheed F-94B.
With this aircraft change came a change to the mission as part of the Air/Aerospace Defense Command (ADC), an association which lasted into the late Cold War period in 1980 some 25 years later, operating such aircraft as the Northrop F-89 Scorpion, Convair F-102 Delta Dagger and McDonnell F-101B Voodoo. Tactical Air Command took over the air defense mission in 1980, and then in 1992, Air Combat Command, which continues today.
In 1958, the first woman joined the Oregon ANG, Captain Faith Hunsdon, a flight nurse and Korean War era veteran who came to the ANG from active duty. She served 12 years in the OreANG and then worked at the Veterans Hospital in Portland for another 28 years, retiring in 1985. Women have been an integral part of the unit, veterans of service continuously since then.
During the Vietnam War some Oregon ANG pilots served on active duty flying the F-102 Delta Dagger in Europe and in SE Asia as part of the Palace Alert program, like William B. McDonald. And we should note, in addition to the home-grown Guardsmen of the unit, since 1946 the Oregon Air National Guard has been leavened with veterans coming off active duty to continue service in the reserve component. Many who served in wartime roles around the world in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and other conflicts later joined the Oregon ANG. So, the Veterans Day heritage of personnel in the unit is quite rich and diverse in experience.
Future Veterans Days found the men and women of the Oregon Air National Guard at home station, ensuring the 24/7 air defense alert mission which continues today. In 1973, the draft ended, and the all-volunteer force era began. But starting in the 1980s and especially after the end of the Cold War, various Oregon ANG units and personnel deployed overseas where they served on other Veterans Days.
The 142nd Fighter Group expanded into the air superiority mission in the McDonnell Douglas F-4C Phantom II in the 1980s. It deployed air and ground crews in 1986 to West Germany to operate the F-4D Phantom II on Zulu Alert as part of the Creek Klaxon air defense alert deployment to Ramstein Air Base, 42 years after that first soggy Armistice Day of the 371st Fighter Group in Europe in 1944.
Since the McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) F-15 Eagle era began in 1989, the 142nd deployed in counter-drug alert ops in Panama, to North Atlantic Treaty Organization duty in Iceland, to SW Asia in 1998 and 2000 for Iraqi No Fly Zone patrols, north and south. And then the unit was engaged in the response to 9/11, on the day from home station, as well as deployed to other locations in the US. And again, in the years since, to SW Asia as Operation Enduring Freedom and/or Iraqi Freedom at various locations with non-F-15 units ranging from special ops (combat controllers, combat weather, pararescue) to security forces, medical, communications, civil engineers, transportation, service/force support, etc.
In 2016, National Guard members gained official status as veterans in 2016 with the passage of “The Honor America’s Guard-Reserve Retirees Act,” providing opportunity for Guardsmen to earn veteran status in the eyes of the law. Principally, this applies to those called to active duty either under Title 10 (by the president) or under Title 32 (by the state governor) of the U.S. Code, or who qualify for retirement benefits with at least 20 years of service.
On this Veterans Day, it appears most of the Oregon ANG’s personnel will be at home, but always ready 24/7 with aerospace control alert should the nation need. Some members will be in a deployed status for Covid-19 response support but hopefully not too far from home.
So, reflecting back on 80 years of Oregon ANG veterans who answered the call to duty and served our country in times of war, we can be proud of their contributions to the security of our land. If you have the opportunity to do so, thank a veteran for their service to our nation, state and community and the preservation of the freedoms and liberties which we still enjoy today.
And honor the families of our veterans as well, as November is National Veterans and Military Families Month. Military families made great sacrifices and provided heartfelt support to their loved ones in uniform, as do the military families of those currently serving, which we should honor and not take for granted. The 142nd Wing recognized that on November 8, 2020 when it established the Airman and Family Readiness Center, which this writer, a veteran of 24 years, has also been able to seek assistance and help from: